|Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Nightwalkers > Damien (Page 3)|
|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Noah smiled slightly, reaching out to take Damien's quickly offered hand and shaking it firmly. The two monarchs then settled their weight evenly on their feet and regarded one another with quick, skilled eyes.
"What brings you to my hunting grounds, so far from home?" Damien asked, cutting to the chase. Noah's holdings in England were a far cry from California, which was where Damien claimed his territory nowadays. It was not as though the King would be able to claim the likelihood of just passing by, since Demons were less frequently found in the United States. They were not enemies, though, which was clearly indicated by the fact that Damien asked his question first, rather than after trying to kill him.
Vampires were also very territorial.
"Call it a business matter," Noah returned congenially. "My apologies for invading your mealtime."
Damien waved the matter off with the flick of a long-fingered hand, the large ruby of the ring on his middle finger winking one of its facets at the Demon King.
"I had not acquired prey yet. It is no matter."
"I had measured as much," Noah returned.
The Demon King was a Fire Demon. Every Demon claimed a power and affinity with certain elements of the natural world around and within themselves. Fire was of course the most volatile and impressive of these elements. As such, Noah could sense energy patterns and, having lived over six centuries, had enough practice with them to know whether or not Damien had acquired a target for the night's feeding.
Noah had earned his throne much in the way Damien had, only he had been elected to it because of his unquestionable strength and ability to be a leader. The previous Demon King had needed to die before that would happen. Of somewhat natural causes, too, because it was severely frowned on for Demons to battle or kill one another-though, being basically immortal, there was very little about the death of any member of either of their species that could be considered natural.
Usually it came down to some form of homicide. In that culture, however, it was unlikely a Demon would be elected King who had just murdered their predecessor. Demons took great affront to the murder of their monarchs.
Noah could also never be voted out of his office. Though the Great Council had elected him, they could not change their minds. His death would be the only way they could replace him with a successor. In less civilized times that had made it a very interesting prospect to be the King of Demons. Especially if the Great Council decided they had made a mistake and tried to assassinate the reigning monarch.
Then again, no Nightwalker race could ever be completely civilized. That was one of Damien's firmer beliefs.
"So what is your business?" Damien asked, indicating with that same ringed hand that the King should walk beside him. They were in a quaint little development in the San Jose suburbs, the rows of houses on either side of them sitting quiet and dark, set back from perfectly manicured lawns and neat little sidewalks.
Again, he cut right to the point of it. Damien liked that about Demons. They did not play social games, unless it suited some extraordinary purpose.
"Yes. The Library. I have not forgotten," the Prince said. "What is it you would like?"
"Scholars from your society, to be blunt. We have no intention of keeping the mysteries of this hidden Nightwalker Library to ourselves. It is clearly a universal collection of many Nightwalker histories. We have not reentered the place since our initial discovery of it in the caverns in Lycanthrope territory. Neither have any of Siena's people," Noah said, smiling slightly when he mentioned the name of the Lycanthrope Queen who had recently wed the commander of his own armed forces. Elijah, the Captain of the Demon warriors, was clearly looked on fondly by his ruler.
"We…that is, Siena and I decided it would only be fair to invite you to join us when we send our scholars in to begin to research what the significance of this place is. Since none of us have ever seen its like before and it is obviously compiled of the languages of all the Nightwalker species, all Nightwalkers should have a fair chance of having a crack at it. On equal terms."
"That is very fair of you. But I do not think I need to tell you that my people are not the scholarly type. Outside of our immediate political structure and my rather compact court, we are a nation of tribes. We run in small, independent packs, worry mostly about feeding, avoiding human hunters, and"-Damien gave Noah a feral grin-"seeking out sensuality. If we cannot consume it, kill it, or party with it, it does not interest us."
Noah laughed at that. That basically described almost every Nightwalker race there was. However, the Demon King knew that the Vampires were the epitome of that particular stereotype. Vampiric boredom was a frightening thing to behold. A Vampire tended to cause a great deal of upheaval when not distracted or amused. Still, Damien had his own way of policing his species. It did not get too far out of hand in this day and age, as it sometimes had in the past.
Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that Damien had matured and had stopped leading his people into the fray.
"If I send anyone to you who is interested," Damien said slowly, "they will no doubt have ulterior personal motives. Perhaps looking at this strange Library as a means of gaining power. There is nothing a Vampire enjoys more than gaining power. If I send someone who is not interested, the place will no doubt become a Vampire hangout until it loses its charm. They would only get in your way. No, it is best if we get any pertinent information from you and yours. Demon and Lycanthrope scholars are the best for this sort of task."
"I figured you would say that, but I thought I should ask in any event. I am surprised that you are showing no personal interest."
"On the contrary," Damien contradicted. "I am eaten up with curiosity. A joint Library with books in languages from so many of the Nightwalker species has intriguing implications. The one I find most curious is how we all managed to get in the same room long enough to even think of constructing such a place, never mind filling it as full as it was when we first saw it. It hints at curious histories so long past that even we who are so long-lived do not recall their origins. It flirts with the idea that we Nightwalkers may have more common origins than we would ever have suspected. It also opens the potential of pissing off a few of the elitist purists all of our races seem to have, arrogant, prejudiced bastards that we are. It is bound to cause trouble."
"And I know how much you enjoy trouble," Noah remarked wryly.
"I admit it, I do." Damien chuckled. "I am certain I will be seen snooping around your workers from time to time. Otherwise, I will instruct Horatio to attend your meetings and recaps of your discoveries. He will report back to me."
"Horatio?" This time Noah laughed. "Now there is an unlikely student. Diplomats make poor scholars. Sometimes history and recorded data is too factual for them. Too biased. They prefer to give too much the benefit of the doubt. Everything would be propaganda to Horatio."
"Just the same, he is already a fixture of your court. That will make it easier. There is also Kelsey. She is taking in the delights of Siena's court at the moment. Between them both and my occasional check-ins, I imagine I will get a fashionable form of the truth of the goings-on."
"Very well," Noah conceded. "But let me know if you change your mind."
"I rarely do."
"I realize this," Noah said. The other man stopped walking and they reached to shake hands once again. "Thank you for your time, Damien. I hope you will come to the naming celebration?"
"When is your sister due to give birth?"
"Within another month or two. Normally a Demon female would go a full thirteen months to term, but Gideon feels his son is very eager to make an appearance. Between that and Magdelegna's strong desire to finish this pregnancy, I have no doubt I will be an uncle again very shortly."
"Wish her well for me. I look forward to Horatio's news of the birth."
Noah gave him a nod, stepped back, and in a heartbeat became a twisting column of smoke that stayed in the shape of the tall, broad-shouldered man for several seconds before stretching out to the sky where it was lost to the night.
Damien followed the Demon King's retreat with his other senses for a moment before he turned his attention back to the task of seeking his supper.
Syreena hit the ground with a loud grunt, the impact of her body and the hard exhalation of her breath kicking up a cloud of dust that, upon her next breath, promptly entered her lungs. She coughed, spat blood from her mouth, and then twisted up onto her hands in order to glare at the person who had hit her.
Actually, she should say persons.
They were The Three.
And she had crossed them badly.
"Get up, child," the central robed figure commanded her.
She did so, drawing her slim legs beneath herself so she could push off from the dirt floor. She tossed back her hair, the two-toned tangles mixing iron gray and soft brown together for a moment before parting into uniform-colored sheets on either side of her head. They parted perfectly into a straight fall on one side and a feathered softness on the other. Her eyes flashed with anger. They were also one gray and one brown; however, they had the disconcerting position of being on the opposing sides of the hair color that would match them. The harlequin effect was always eerie, but in outrage it was downright disturbing.
"I am not a child," she snapped at them, defying the fear of The Three that had been instilled in her from a young age. "I will not apologize for my actions now or ever, even if you beat me to a pulp. So you may as well reconcile yourself to it."
"Your insubordination is untenable, Syreena. This is not how you were raised."
"I know how I was raised," she barked back, spitting once more before wiping the back of her hand across her lips. "I am no longer beholden to The Pride, Silas, and I have not been for fifteen years. If you recall, you are the ones who rejected me, who threw me out and into the Lycanthrope court so I could serve my sister."
"You were not rejected, Syreena. You were reassigned. Monks of The Pride serve dual relationships all of the time in the world. Why must it be one or the other with you? You are a Monk and you are the Queen's advisor."
"And I am a Princess," she reminded them. "A member of the royal family. Though my sister defers to your wisdom and protocols on occasion, she still holds reign over you as she does any member of the Lycanthrope race. That power is also mine now. You told me it was time to take up my mantle of royalty, and now you punish me for doing so!"
"We punish you," the figure on the left retorted, "because you attacked one of your brothers without cause."
"That pompous jackass dared question my sister's survival when she was on the edge of death. She was poisoned so badly by the sun, gasping as if every breath were her last, and he insults her, belittles her efforts toward a peace she was willing to sacrifice her life for! I would, and I will do it again if anyone-"
"No one puts their hands on a member of The Pride!" Silas barked at her, showing the first ruffle in his exterior calm since the entire incident between them had begun.
"Oh, you mean like you did not just lay hands on me?" she countered. "Do as I say, and not as I do? That may have worked when I was a child, but I am an adult now. A well-seasoned adult-I thank you, your training has done me well. I warn you, Silas, if you raise your hand to me one more time, you will learn what it is I have held in check through my teachings all of these years, just as Konini and Hendor did when they disrespectfully disparaged my family. You got your lick in. Be satisfied with it and move on. You will not drag me to heel this time. You never will again. Those days are past."
The Princess was not making an idle threat. Silas was well aware of what she was capable of, and just as aware of what he did not know she was capable of. No one would ever know that but Syreena herself, no matter that she had spent the past century under the tutelage of the best minds and members of The Pride.
Syreena was a Lycanthropic anomaly. The cure to a childhood illness had left her dramatically mutated. Once she had hit puberty, she had developed into a Lycanthrope without equal.
Every Lycanthrope could exist in three forms of themselves. The human aspect, the aspect of whatever animal it was that ran through their blood, and a human-shaped combination of the two called the Wereform.
Syreena had been given an additional two aspects, a split that took on the form and Wereform of an additional animal. This gave her a position of precedence. No one truly knew where her abilities ended. No one but herself. While it intrigued everyone, even tempted them, none were all that willing to challenge her to her limits.
So even though The Three were the most feared and most powerful Monks of The Pride, Syreena was not surprised when they relented. It came in the form of Silas turning on his heel in displeased silence and marching out of the discipline room, the remaining two following silently in his wake.
Syreena exhaled in frustrated anger. She was not known for her temper, but it did not mean that she did not have one. In fact, she had been bred from temperamental stock. It was only her teachings and meditations that had allowed her to escape the infamy of the royal warlike tendencies. To be fair, her sister had escaped them as well. Siena was even renowned as a peacekeeper. Understandably, there was a distinct difference between Siena's politics and her personality. That was evident in the fact that she had chosen a diehard warrior for her husband.
Syreena remained in the dungeon room of the monastery, pacing the floor in an effort to spend some of her unburned emotional energy. To be honest, this attempt at reining her in had not been at all unexpected. After she had nearly strangled the two Monks who had dared to gainsay her and her sister's wishes, it was very much a given. Anyone who threatened a member of The Pride, even Siena herself, would face censure.